Monday, August 04, 2008

Calorie Caveats

When the calorie posting regulation was first proposed we outlined how inexact, and ultimately unhelpful, the measure would be. Now that it's in effect, the critics are coming. As the Gotham Gazette points out: "The rule that went into effect on March 31 requires restaurants with 15 or more franchises nation-wide to post calorie data on menus. Concerned about the city's obesity epidemic, the Board of Health reasoned that people might shun some foods in favor of healthier ones if they knew just how many calories lurked beneath a Big Mac's special sauce and sesame seed bun. But while mandating that calorie data be displayed, the law does not address many issues surrounding the accuracy of the counts. Many nutritionists laud the city's efforts to help New Yorkers eat better, but critics say the law was hastily crafted and will be impossible to enforce."

Well, well-just as we had said but no one wanted to listen: "Meanwhile, consumers will need to realize that all calorie counts are not created equal. Calorie data on New York's menus are subject to far less scrutiny than the nutrition labels on products sold in grocery stores." Not only that, but the information itself isn't really that good for folks who want to use it to eat better.

The fact is, all calories aren't created equal; and the accuracy of the counts can lead, as the National Restaurant Association had argued, to all kinds of legal liabilities-including a liability for the city: "The city's new regulation could be food for lawsuits. Consumers who think a misleading calorie count constituted false advertising could take legal action against restaurants and the city. And since the rule does not set accuracy standards, it could feed disputes between restaurant owners and inspectors with differing interpretations of how precise the data must be...But since the New York City health department mandates and regulates the calorie information, the city could be at legal risk as well as its restaurants."

The road to hell, and all that. This fiasco is just starting, and the light at the end of the tunnel is a fast moving legal train.